09 February 2010

Zombie politics

Describing the reaction of those conservatives in the US who now accept the mainstream scientific position on climate change, Jonathan Chait says:
[R]ather than proceed from that premise to some program of reduced emissions, they have feverishly devised a series of rationales for unlimited carbon use. Some have embraced fantastical geoengineering schemes--massive machines, for example, that would suck carbon out of the sky--with the rabid certainty of a science-fiction nut. Others insist that limiting U.S. emissions will do nothing to help force developing nations to do the same. Still other conservatives argue that the future world will be richer and thus able to cope with whatever calamities a hotter planet will bring. The telling thing here is not that these arguments are provably wrong, though they are highly speculative. It’s that those conservatives who have accepted climate-change science immediately jumped to some other reason to oppose government action. ... [V]irtually no conservative intellectuals seem to settle, even temporarily, on the view that climate change is real and that government regulation is therefore appropriate. They cling to climate-science skepticism like a life preserver, and then, when they can’t hold on any more, they grasp immediately for a different rationale. If government intervention appears to be the answer, they must change the question. Jonathan Chait, The rise of Republican nihilism, 'The New Republic', 30 December 2009
It wouldn't matter so much of these deadbeat political parties were subject to genuine competition or the sort of market disciplines that they themselves claim they would like to see in the economy. Sadly, though, they and their corporate paymasters are together powerful and self-interested enough to stifle any chance of real reform. Ideology becomes a means by which to paper over the widening gap between politicians' interests and those of ordinary people. It can't go on indefinitely, but it could well be that any worthwhile convergence will be preceded by some sort of catastrophe.

One way of avoiding that would be a gradual transition to a Social Policy Bond regime. If that seems drastic and far fetched, then at the very least we should start to express policy goals in terms of meaningful outcomes, rather than as ideological counters, activities or spending on government agencies.

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